Ricocheting Madly In-Between: The Emotional Perspective of a Young Sylvia Plath

At 19, Sylvia Plath was a top scholarship student at a prestigious college, a published (for pay) author, as well a vibrant blond beauty with many suitors.  Yet, all was not well within her.  She writes in her journal –

I have much to live for, yet unaccountably I am sick and sad.

Rather than talk to someone about it (a friend advised her to see a psychiatrist), she tries some encouraging self-talk, and she is able to “pick herself up by her own bootstraps” (or saddle shoes, as the case may be) –

I have started on the rise upward after bouncing around a little on rock bottom.  I know I am capable of getting good marks: I know I am capable of attracting males.  All I need to do is keep my judgment, sense of balance and philosophic sense of humor, and I’ll be fine, no matter what happens.

Yet, her very next journal entry reveals the benefits of this self-therapy are short-lived.  She hits another rock bottom.

Now I know what loneliness is, I think.  Momentary loneliness, anyway.  It comes from a vague core of the self — like a disease of the blood, dispersed throughout the body so that one cannot locate the matrix, the spot of contagion.

Plath, however, does not let this “disease of the blood” incapacitate her.   She continues to write, to go to classes, to go out on dates.  But inside, she is dying on the vine.

God, but life is loneliness, despite all the opiates, despite the shrill tinsel gaiety of parties with no purpose, despite the false grinning faces we all wear.

Plath talks very little about her family in her journals.  One entry, however, does reveal her mother’s concern for her emotional health – a concern not well received by Sylvia.

My enemies are those who care about me most.  First, my mother.  Her pitiful wish that I “be happy.”  Happy!  That is indefinable as far as states of being.

While Sylvia perceives happiness as unattainable, she does believe behavioral choices contribute to emotional states.

I have the choice of being constantly active and happy or introspectively passive and sad.  Or I can go mad by ricocheting in between.

At 19, however, Plath saw life as very much worth living.

For all my despair, for all my ideal, for all that — I love life.  But it is hard, and I have so much – so very much to learn.

Quotes from The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath. 

For more reflections on Plath’s journals, see –

Beauty Out of Sorrow

Being a Writer or Becoming a Wife

The Grimness of Atheism

Luxuriating in the Feel of Words

(photo of Sylvia Plath from Erna Peters in Writers)

6 thoughts on “Ricocheting Madly In-Between: The Emotional Perspective of a Young Sylvia Plath

  1. Is it possible that her irritation with her mother’s wanting her to “be happy” is that it may have been reductive or insincere? I ask without really knowing anything of her mother, but I have found 9 times out of 10 people who want me to “be happy” want me to “go along without a fuss”, “don’t challenge our agenda” etc.

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